Rob Pannell is a cruise missile in a fashionable helmet. via images.lax.com
Do you see the guy on the right in that picture? That's Rob Pannell of Cornell. He's the best player in college lacrosse as of this very second. And this second. And this second.
Some folks disagree with that statement, floating the theory that there are guys out there that are better than Pannell at close attack. I think that this assessment turns on a combination of theories, but mostly the following: Pannell can get an offense going, but he doesn't have the goods to single-handedly take over a game (like, say, Billy Bitter).
In short, I think that's nonsense. Pannell is the primary cog in the most efficient offense in the country (39.26 goals per 100 possessions). Not only is Pannell getting people involved in the onslaught, but he's also putting a huge scoring load directly on his back through pure testosterone. He's an individual star turning his featured players into legitimate headlining threats. That's what separates Pannell from the others. He's a great talent that makes the talent around him superior.
Pannell has generated 53 points (25G, 28A) on the season through nine games. If you're into this sort of thing (you shouldn't be), he holds the highest point-per-game average in the country (5.89). What's truly important isn't the number of points that Pannell has generated, but rather how Pannell has generated his points. It's the relationships between offensive players -- who's helping who, how are players working with each other to score, etc. -- that's interesting and valuable, not simply the superficial fact that a player or two scores a bunch of points.
Here's a chart. It reflects how (and through who) Pannell has generated his 53 points this season. For example, Pannell had four hookups with Mitch McMichael this season that resulted in a goal (Pannell has helped McMichael twice with an assist; McMichael has two assists on Pannell tallies).
Let's start with the obvious: Pannell is a one-man destruction machine. Look at his unassisted goal total. Over 75 percent of Pannell's tallies have come from his own individual effort (he's only been helped with an assist six times in 2011). When you also consider that Pannell is drawing his opposition's best defender each and every game, the fact comes into focus that Pannell is as good as anyone at beating his man and burying the bean.
It's just not that Pannell is a unstoppable force, though, it's also that he's freakishly efficient at getting the job done. His individual offensive efficiency rating is an insane 8.03 (goals per 100 possessions). I just want to be clear on this: In theory, Rob Pannell's individual scoring offense is as potent as half of Holy Cross' entire offense. In other words, the Crusaders theoretically need about three guys to do what Pannell does virtually by himself.
When you start drilling into points per 100 possessions, Pannell's rating skyrockets to 17.04. This is exactly why points-per-game is misleading. Whenever Cornell has the ball -- the Big Red are in the top-five in number of offensive possessions per 60 minutes -- Pannell is contributing at a high rate. And considering that only a handful of teams have the ball more than the Big Red do, it means that Pannell has a greater opportunity to register a point (and he does so in efficient fashion).
How do you stop that? He's a one-man offensive machine, racking up points more efficiently and with a higher occurrence than some teams. Even against Virginia -- a team rated ninth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency -- Pannell pumped in four unassisted goals. His individual offensive efficiency rating in that game was 10.81.
(More after the jump.)
The other thing that jumps off the page is how much Pannell spreads the ball around. The chart above does show a straightforward fact -- that Pannell and Steve Mock are hooking up a bunch with other tandems showing up at a smaller but somewhat notable frequency. What that chart doesn't show, though, is the true value of Pannell's efforts relative to everyone else's point production.
I think that the following chart fills that void. This chart shows four things:
- Players that Pannell has helped score a goal with an assist.
- Players that have helped Pannell score agoal with an assist.
- The number of points that those players have recorded on the season.
- The percentage of those points that are attributable to Pannell's activity (e.g., if a player scored only one goal and it was from a Pannell assist, the "Pannell Percentage" would be 100 percent).
This is where the value of Rob Pannell is truly seen. Take Steve Mock, for example. Mock is fourth on the team in total points at 18 (18G, 0A). A full 44 percent of Mock's tallies this season, however, are attributable to a Pannell helper. Without Pannell, does Mock register the tally? I don't know, but it's hard to say that Pannell isn't putting his fingerprints all over the Cornell offense (especially among some big contributors).
It's the same song for McMichael. 40 percent of his points have run through Pannell (each player has helped each other twice with an assist). While the helping percentages aren't high between Pannell and Roy Lang and David Lau, you'd have a hard time convincing me that either player isn't benefiting from Pannell simply being on field, drawing defensive attention and making the opposition worry about stopping Pannell's favorite tandem targets.
Pannell is everywhere, touching everything. This is why he's the best.